Telepathology is the practice of medical diagnosis facilitated by digital transmission of pathological data. 

Telepathology makes it faster and easier to share medical images. Biopsies can be cut, stained, scanned, magnified and sent digitally during an operation. A pathologist can read the slides remotely in real-time and provide the surgeon with an immediate diagnosis.

There are three main categories of telepathology:

  • Static image-based systems - images are captured from a digital camera connected to a microscope. An image area is selected and transmitted. 
  • Virtual slide systems - pathology specimen slides are scanned and high-resolution digital images created for transmission.  
  • Real-time systems - the operator remotely guides a robotically controlled motorized microscope. Real-time telepathology systems allow the operator to adjust the microscope as if it were local. 

One of the most important benefits of telepathology is faster diagnoses. For example, patients in remote rural areas can be tested and diagnosed in a single trip to the nearest healthcare facility rather than having to travel to a larger center several times and wait several weeks for results, which is often the case in traditional pathology. In extreme -- but not unusual -- cases, such a delay can be fatal.

Other benefits of telepathology:

  • Medical professionals in different locations can view images simultaneously and discuss diagnoses through teleconferencing.
  • A doctor can consult with a pathologist who specializes in the patient’s area of concern, such as liver pathology or lung pathology.
  • A healthcare provider can get second opinions more easily.
  • Patient data can be synchronized across various electronic health information systems.
  • Once implemented, a telepathology system is less expensive to operate than the traditional system.

In medicine, pathology refers to the science of diagnosis as applied to individual cases. The broader field of study is known as general pathology.


See also: virtual microscopy, electronic health record (EHR), picture archiving and communication system (PACS), Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM), health information technology (HIT

This was last updated in January 2011

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